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Page last updated at 16:03 GMT, Friday, 30 April 2010 17:03 UK

Tech brings remote mountain data to scientists

Solar panel at the top of Italian Alps
Remote weather station are powered by solar panels

Mountain environments can be unpredictable and need constant monitoring, especially for potential hazards brought about by climate change.

Weather stations have become an invaluable tool for scientists monitoring the conditions 2,000 metres up the Alps.

Stations in remote parts of Italy's Valle d'Aosta have been linked to the mobile telephone network with the help of new technology.

They enable scientists to forecast temperature, snow and rainfall, wind direction back in their offices.

"This allows us to have at our desks real-time data measured in remote sites," said Umberto Morra di Cella, a researcher at the Valle d'Aosta environment agency.

"This means we can always verify that the equipment is up and running, but we can also remotely gather the data we need, even when there are intense storms and it is impossible to reach the stations," he said.

Solar panels supply power to the remote stations, which can be reached by helicopter for occasional hands-on maintenance work.

5,000 landslides

Climate change might also have a bearing on the frequency of extreme weather events in the Alps.

The Italian valley has been affected by life-threatening floods and landslides in every decade since the 1970s, and more recently in the year 2000.

Umberto Morra di Cella, Valle d'Aosta environment agency
Researchers can gather mountain data from their offices

"Our territory is particularly fragile and we have counted almost 5,000 mud or landslides in history and we have had a whole series of floods," said geologist Sara Ratto.

"In the last 10 years we have implemented systems to give us the information to see if we about to have a very serious weather event," she added.

Researchers hope technology will help them spot the signs of floods and mudslides before they take place.

Valle d'Aosta's forecasting department compares gathered data from a network of stations to information catalogued from past environmental disasters.

Falling glacier

Mr Morra di Cella said the Alpine region was particularly sensitive to climate shifts.

"Rapid changes impact heavily on ecosystems and the social system in the Alpine region," he said.

Rising temperatures are resulting in ice melting more quickly than before, and another group of scientists are monitoring a hanging glacier in danger of falling.

The remote 4,400 metre Grand Jorasse Peak is being monitored with time-lapse and 3D imaging technology.

Researches hope to be able to anticipate when a chunk of ice is going to fall off.

Fabrizio Diotri, environmental engineer at the Secure Mountain Foundation said: "This is not a static object, but is a dynamic one. We study this evolution because knowing the volumes of these ice masses is very important for risk managers."

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